Sunday, January 4, 2015
A recent government report suggested ways in which libraries could adapt to the way we read now – but attitudes need to change first.
“Libraries should be more like coffee shops.” The headlines following last month’s publication of the Independent Library Report for England by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport unfortunately managed to trivialise a vital blueprint for the future of the UK library service. The sensible suggestion by William Sieghart and his panel that all public libraries should have Wi-Fi (and coffee and lavatories) is just part of the plan for how to revitalise libraries in a digital age.
Now, before anyone secretly thinks: “Do we really need libraries now everyone’s got Kindles/Wikipedia/Google?”, a view that is not confined to below the line on the Telegraph website but shared by many in the political establishment, let’s get a few things clear. Despite massive cuts to budgets and opening hours over the past few years, a third of the population uses libraries (50% in poorer areas). A fifth of people still don’t have the internet at home and more still don’t know how to use it.
As the report emphasises: “Libraries offer more than just books, CDs and DVDs. They have become the portal to a whole range of material for education, entertainment and self-improvement.” Making this material available to all lies at the heart of Sieghart’s plan to build a national digital infrastructure: a single platform from which high-quality content can be accessed and knowledge can be shared.
At the moment, any ideas about using digital technology to make libraries exciting places for readers (see the Library 21 project ) are thwarted by barriers. One is a lack of central control, hence the proposal for a national taskforce. Another is a lack of funding. Perhaps the greatest barrier is attitudes: the stubborn views held by some publishers on e-lending need to change, along with our sometimes overly nostalgic notions of what a library service can be.
Source : The Guardian